Dual blogged on Irish News Review
The chariot has been derailed and Ireland remain unbeaten. Such was the plethora of wins Ireland experienced over England before 2012 that seems strange to write with such enthusiasm but it has to be appreciated for what it means. How did they do it? Well it’s more than worthwhile taking a look.
The first big shake up on Ireland’s approach against the Auld Enemy came via the restarts. Against Italy and, to a greater extent France, Ireland chose to pursue their opponents up the right hand side via Tommy Bowe. Even the most devoted of Irish fans and pundits could be forgiven for thinking that this was due to Bowe being the more experienced of Ireland’s wide options. Queue kick off in the Aviva however and for the first 20 minutes Simon Zebo was the golden child. Every Irish restart went up the 11 channel and Zebo was more than willing to oblige. Was Schmidt counting on the English coaching team buying the red herring? Maybe, maybe not, but damned if it didn’t work.
What was immense about this Ireland performance was how many times it looked like the game would or could slip but it didn’t. Sean O’Brien left the pitch injured, so too did Jonathan Sexton and Jared Payne. Upon replacing Mike Ross with Marty Moore the English scrum gained an upper hand (no disrespect to Moore meant in what was a Titanic battleground). Yet at no point did it look like Ireland VS England 2013 or worse still Ireland VS Italy 2013. This team just wins, due to a coaching unit that have instilled the belief to do so in them. Still not perfect, not that perfection is a given conclusion at the end of the line, but Ireland have well and truly got a game plan for every team that reflects an accuracy and level of detail unseen before.
As was the case against France, Ireland brought an intensity to the opening exchanges yesterday that England simply couldn’t match. Within the first ten minutes Ireland had a six point lead, Sean O’Brien had been as present around the pitch as he normally would be in an hour and Simon Zebo had thrown a proverbial two fingers to anyone who thought they could tackle the restarts, Irish or English. England were great, aside from some bizarre decision making at times, and right up until the ten point gap the game was well and truly in the balance. Alas, wunderkind Robbie Henshaw has finally crossed the line for Ireland and did it in a style that should well and truly silence the flat earth society. Conor Murray didn’t even look like he believed his kick could amount to anything such was the opportunism of the superbly nabbed try but amount to something it did and Ireland put a level of daylight between them and England not seen since 2011.
Grand Slam talk is now completely unavoidable, the fact that Ireland have to travel away to the final two games seemingly irrelevant, but once Wales are out of the equation we can probably consider that some more. Still a championship defence is more within their grasp now than ever, which would be a first since 1949, and even at this point Ireland have already had a more successful title defence tournament than they have since then. New Zealand are now the only side to not feel the wrath of Joe Schmidt’s rugby brain, a feat that took the last two coaches 2 and 3 years to achieve. Ireland are on a ten game run of consecutive wins, matching the previously held record. They have conceeded one try this entire Six Nations. The stats pile up endlessly but what do they all mean? This is a different Ireland. Throw out the rule book and stop trying to predict them, the past is exactly that.
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